FIREFLY

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Photo by Radim Schreiber / FireflyExperience.org

Last Saturday I awoke with a nasty bellyache, a sharp throbbing pain in the middle of my gut. No matter what I tried, it would not abate. I contorted my body into yoga poses. Drank bubbly water mixed with apple cider vinegar. Sucked on fennel seeds. Sipped peppermint tea. Finally, I gave in and gagged down four TUMS. All to no avail. After an hour of grimacing, I took to my bed and found that if I lay on my right side and tucked my left leg up by my chest, the pain diminished significantly. But only if I stayed in that exact position.

Needing a diversion, I extended my left arm backwards and grabbed a random book from the messy pile on my night table. My hand retrieved “Unbound: Finding Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood,” written by Jamie Sumner.

I groaned. I kinda sorta didn’t want to read it. I wanted something FUN, something LIGHT, something maybe a little IMMORAL or IRREVERENT to distract me from my discomfort; not a  book about GOD and INFERTILITY. As I again reached backwards toward the jumble of books, a voice in my head shouted, “Lisa! Think about all the shit you’ve been going through and the fact that this woman in Tennessee, a woman you’ve never even met, has been so supportive. And lest you forget: she wrote an amazing review of your book. She mailed you her book because she wants you to read it, you idiot. Don’t be such a selfish jerk.”

I opened the book.

cover

Last year, in an effort to promote my new book, “Rash, A Memoir,” I asked some fellow writers in a private Facebook group if anyone would be willing to read and review it. Jamie Sumner was the first person to volunteer.

After she received the book she emailed me: “The cover is so COOL. It makes me want to scratch at the surface. Literally. What would Bali and angst smell like if we made it Scratch N’  Sniff?” This, naturally, endeared me to her.

After she published a remarkably flattering review of my book on her blog, I wrote to thank her and, soon enough, we began emailing one another. We shared a few personal stories, but mostly, we discussed the world of publishing. Things like how difficult it is to find the right agent. The niggling self-doubts that often accompany the writing life. Nothing too deep or needy. But when my agent sent me a curt email containing three rejections of my latest novel, I forwarded it to Jamie, along with a some pathetic whining.

I instantly regretted it and sent an apology letter, admitting that I have ADHD and sometimes over-share my woes onto unsuspecting listeners. I didn’t want our new friendship to veer into overwhelming intimacy, and offered to back off.

Jamie refused to let me withdraw: “We are both not just here for advice, but for support in all the things that make us human. I will take anything you can throw at me. You are lovely, in all your ADHD glory. I was reading Anne Lamott’s ‘Operating Instruction’ and came across this: ‘I tell my writing students to get into the habit of calling one another, because writing is such a lonely, scary business, and if you’re not careful, you can trip off into this Edgar Allan Poe feeling of otherness.’ Let’s keep each other from the otherness. I think that’s why we met.”

It wasn’t until after this exchange that Jamie let on that she had a book of her own coming out.

“That’s fantastic,” I said, thinking I would be first in line to offer to review it. “What is it about?”

“The book is about motherhood and all the expectations met and unmet,” she wrote. “It’s a faith-based memoir of sorts with a hefty dose of sass because I can’t handle the Christian books that read like they should be written in cursive or made into a Hallmark movie.”

A Christian book? She wrote a Christian book?

While I knew from our emails that Jamie had a bit of a religious disposition, I was rattled by the  disclosed weight of it. I hadn’t realized what a true blue, God-fearing, Bible-toting, commandment-following, Christian she truly was.

As opposed to me: a Buddhist-curious, commandment-breaking, non-believer.

Before I could throw the proverbial baby out with the holy bath water, I decided to keep an open mind. As a constant seeker of truth and knowledge; someone who meditates and strives to be a more compassionate person, I knew it shouldn’t matter that our spiritual paths resembled a Y in the road with huge gap between. We made each other laugh, and I got the sense that she didn’t care that I slept in on Sundays instead of communing with God. (Though I did tread carefully with my emails, backspacing whenever I accidently took the Lord’s name in any form approaching vain.)

Besides which, Jamie made me feel safe, listened to—enough so that by this point in our virtual friendship, I opened up more of my own personal drawers and admitted that I was struggling with my mother, who had been recently diagnosed with dementia. In fact, I was flying down to  Florida in a few days to move her into a memory care facility.

I wrote to Jamie from Florida and detailed some of the not-so-fun challenges I was facing. The sadness and loss that were weighing heavy on my heart.

“I am tired for you,” she replied, “which does not change the situation one bit, but might make you feel better. I love you and I’ll be shooting prayers into the sky like arrows.”

Having someone pray for me was an entirely new experience, but I liked it. I pictured this smart pretty woman with her eyes closed, asking an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing Being she worships to throw a little extra love in my direction. The image of her prayer arrows, like bursts of light flashing across the skies, comforted me more than I ever could have imagined.

Which is why I nicknamed her

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“Unbound” is listed under the Christian Books and Bibles category on Amazon. I knew from the description that Jamie would be perching her personal saga alongside Biblical females, and I was ready for those snippets of Scripture to detract from, or even derail, my interest in the central story. Still, I was determined to at least read a few chapters, for the sake of our friendship.

Crunched up as I was like a Roly-Poly bug in my bed, I started reading Jamie’s book at 11:00 AM. I read it while sipping the cup of chamomile tea my kind husband brought me. I read it when I began to feel well enough to sit up and lean against the headboard. I continued reading it after nibbling a light dinner, and even skipped watching the Netflix show I’d been binging on so I could keep turning pages. I couldn’t not read it I was so caught up.

I finished it that night.

I was surprised—and ineffably relieved—by how much I enjoyed the book. There was no didactic Sunday School flogging. Instead, Jamie deftly and humorously weaved Christian narratives through her own adventures and misadventures with the lyrical grace of a folklorist. A whole lot of women in a whole lot of books have spilt their procreative beans, but Jamie’s voice, cadence, and craft made for a drama that kept me on edge, guessing, wishing, laughing, crying, and, yes, sometimes even praying, along with her.

After I finished the book, I stared at the snapshot of Jamie, her husband, Jody, and their three children she’d inserted into the book. I smiled, turned out the light, and kept the image of those five shining faces behind my eyes until I finally fell asleep. The next morning I thumbtacked the photo to my bulletin board.

family

Now, whenever I need a moment of grace, all I have to do is glance to my left.

 

 

 

 

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Listen

 

KMS8623I am not a woman,

invisible

I am women,

indivisible.

I have a face, although you don’t

see my face. 

“Look at me when I’m talking to you.”

I have a face.

I have a voice.

Hear me roar. Better yet, come 

closer

and hear me whisper. For my screams

you blithely ignore, as though they are

inconsequential laments from a baby

not your own.

 

Okay.

It will be my whispers then;

the runty sounds 

that turn inside my head

like a Ferris wheel in the distant dark.

Whispers shall carry us through

to the day you stop scorching our souls with the

party-line precepts stowed securely

in your breast pocket.

Your right hand pats them once, twice,

then rests solemnly as you pledge allegiance

to the hatred and subversion you married.

Pat

Pat

I watched as you anchored your beliefs to

this totem of power

this phallus

this fallacy

then chose to back away from the moral ledge.

 

Whispers

between friends, words spoken through clouds 

of outrage, but uttered nonetheless, shared with 

Marina and Anne, Topaz, Meg, Lori and Susan

Monica and Kelley.

A match has been lit. Held in the

whispers of Jenny and Deby

and Aimee and Judy.

 

You haven’t heard us yet, have you?

Because we’ve been whispering.

What do you think a million angry whispers

sound like when uttered

in a small wood-paneled room?

Imagine it.

Go ahead.

A whisper from one woman who spoke her truth

should have been enough

should have been more than enough

to set your world ablaze.

No matter.

We are here now, full, on fire,

ready to burn down your injustices like

flames ripping through fields of drought-dried wheat.

 

We’re here now

whispering amongst ourselves.

Listen.

Walking to end ALZ

Image result for alz walk

Not that I expect it to end anytime soon, but I will participate in an ALZ fundraiser at Shelburne Museum this coming Sunday to honor my mother and the millions of other folks who suffer from this horrible disease. Click HERE to see my personal page.

 

 

The CIA and Me

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While living in Seattle in the 80s, I applied to the CIA’s career training program. In retrospect I have no idea why I would have pursued such a vocation, but just now, while going through some old file folders, I found the cover letter I sent them.

Was it because I’d recently dropped out of graduate school or because I was bored with my administrative job at a student loan association that I applied? Maybe it was due to the fact that I’d just had my heart broken by a muscular blond ski god named Rob. Or, it could have simply been because I was adven.jpga restless thirty-one-year old woman hoping to find a new adventure.

(And that’s changed, how?)

I honestly don’t know what could have spurred such a crazy act, but here I am, twenty-six years later, laughing at this obnoxiously boastful, but mildly amusing tome.

Sirs,

For my doctorate degree in environmental anthropology, my plan was to research how grassroots organizations function under an authoritarian regime. I became a finalist for a Fulbright Scholarship and starting packing for my move to Poland. This was 1988, the year Communism crumbled, which, unfortunately caused the Fulbright Committee, at the last minute, to deem my topic moot.

Although I did not earn a PhD, I have vowed not to let three years of Soviet and Eastern bloc studies; a fierce desire to work overseas; and thirty-one years of life experience be put to rest as well. I know that working for the Central Intelligence Agency would be the pinnacle for that goal.

I have an excellent academic background. I have a BA in biology, with a minor in theater arts, and an MA in anthropology. From the natural sciences I learned the rigors of hard data gathering and analysis. The social sciences taught me that it is possible to forge observations with amorphous scientific models. I have enclosed my master’s thesis as proof of both my research acuity and writing strength.

Concomitant to my academic accomplishments, I possess an eclectic accumulation of professional and personal experiences.  I have over three years’ business experience. I know the budgeting, sales, and marketing aspects of profit and not-for-profit operations. Salient among my achievements, I designed, instituted, and managed a medical sales program for a health maintenance organization (HMO) in San Diego, California. And, as a consultant for the Environmental Protection Agency, I marketed a successful recycling program for Region 10 employees.

But there are many more colors and shapes that make up the collage of any individual.

When I was twenty-three, I traveled alone through nine western European countries for four months. Presently, I can say “Hello,” and “one coffee please” in nine languages.

I was on the sailing team in college, backpacked throughout the Cascades, rafted raging rivers, and taught photography and creative writing to eight year olds. I have danced in ballets, acted and directed in the theater, and was an extra in the movie “Peggy Sue Got Married” and “Northern Exposure,” the television series.      

If the CIA offers adventure, I welcome it.           

I am charming, allowing for occasional bursts of self-conscious humility.          

 Image result for gif eye roll

I cut up frozen fish for hours at a stretch and helped force-feed it to abandoned seal pups. As a clown, I’ve brought a lot of joy to developmentally disabled children.           

I am healthy, honest, and a great cook.           

I am a hard worker, a quick study, and a compassionate team player. I am an independent thinker with an incurable attention to detail; I cannot get bogged down by paper work.           Image result for omg please

I wish to preserve democracy everywhere by being part of the Central Intelligence Agency’s team. Thank you for your consideration and I hope to hear from you soon.

 
I never did hear from them.

Good thing.

Smart New Review of RASH

vermontwomen

There’s no link to their site, just their FB page, so here it is in full:

Rash: A Memoir by Lisa Kusel
Salt Lake City, UT: WiDo, 2017; 292 pages

by Lori Lustberg

Once upon a time, Lisa Kusel, her husband, Victor Prussack, and their 6-year-old daughter, Loy, lived a seemingly perfect life in California. One evening, inspired by the book Three Cups of Tea, Prussack, a schoolteacher with a deep passion for his work, told Kusel he felt the need “to do something different.” Kusel’s latest novel had recently been rejected by several different publishers, and she herself was feeling deeply restless and unhappy.

Soon thereafter, Kusel learned about Green School, an international school with a groundbreaking, progressive, environmentally sustainable mission that was putting down roots in Bali. Having read Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Kusel began to dream about finding paradise, inner peace, and happily ever after—as well as getting her writing groove back—in Bali. Thus began her efforts to not-so-subtly nudge Prussack to pursue a teaching position at Green School.

“This suddenly sounds too important to you,” Prussack said, rather presciently, during one particularly intense nudging session. “I get that you think this would be an interesting place for me to teach and yeah, for Loy, it’d be nothing but great, but what about you? What will you get out of it?”

Kusel’s thoughts drifted off as if floating on a feather, carrying us with them: “If we moved to Bali, I reasoned without any real reason, I would finally find true self-love and inner peace. … I’d get keener; be able to smell the purple in Loy’s paintings; see the perfume wafting off the skin of beautiful women; hear the fish swim. I would reinvent myself. I would find contentment. I would be present. Victor and I would fall in love all over again. Bali would make that happen. Bali. How tropical and flowery that sounded. Yes, if we moved to Bali, all would be light and golden and I’d-” “Lisa, I’m still waiting for you to answer my question,” Prussack interrupted her reverie. “I think if we moved to Bali, I’d learn how to stop searching for something new all the time and be grateful for what I have.”

Not long after, Prussack was hired to teach at Green School; the couple sold their little blue house on the hill and moved their family from California to Bali. Rash is the story of how their paradisiacal dream quickly devolved into a parasitical nightmare, both real and metaphorical, external and internal. As Kusel puts it:

“Far from the soft tropical breezes and limitless supply of papayas, it turned out I’d gone to a place where I couldn’t have been any more vulnerable; a place I had no control over. I had no walls to hide behind. No insulation to muffle my voice, the one inside my head as well as the one coming from my mouth. My home was open to all creatures; a space where anyone could enter. Oh, boy, did they.”

The family had moved nearly 10,000 miles in part so Prussack could pursue an idealistic vision and do what he loved most. Inadvertently, however, Prussack ended up having to navigate, on a daily basis, the money/power/ego/administrative/micropolitical web that was driving the school. On top of that, Green School had opened its doors long before it should have, teachers were treated poorly, and Prussack, ever the optimist, was under unrelenting stress from the constant pressure of trying to make the best of an unworkable situation. As if to add insult to injury, the school and the teachers’ homes were smack dab in the middle of the oppressively hot, humid Balinese jungle with no walls and few modern amenities, infested with mold and ants, amid an endless construction zone. What’s more, the campus was next to a graveyard, where the stench of bodies being cremated—along with the repetitive, droning sounds of ceremonial gamelan music—would often permeate the air. Not long after they arrived in Bali, Kusel began a rapid downward descent. Instead of writing and blissing out, a la Elizabeth Gilbert, she found herself endlessly complaining to Prussack and, as a result, nearly destroying her marriage. As she writes:

“All I’d done since our move into the bamboo castle was gripe about what was wrong, from the constant noise to the lack of hot water to the litany of small annoyances that had been eating at me. I’d been so self-absorbed and negative that I’d all but ignored how my attitude could be affecting my family.”

In Rash, the oppressive external circumstances Kusel, Prussack, and Loy find themselves facing (including some miserable skin rashes that plagued Loy), serve as metaphors for Kusel’s inner “rash,” her discontent, restlessness, and constant searching for happiness outside her own heart and mind. With writing that is honest, raw, and often hilariously funny, Kusel weaves a brilliant tapestry that represents the human condition and its varying expressions of hope and disappointment, beauty and ugliness, love and longing, joy and pain, need and want, suffering and acceptance. In the end, with Prussack’s and Loy’s love and support, Kusel realizes that “home” and “happiness” have nothing to do with location or circumstance and everything to do with one’s heart and mind.

Lori Lustberg is a freelance writer specializing in financial, legal, and tax issues. She is currently working on her first book, The Art and Heart of Winning at Divorce: A New Paradigm.